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The demise of the 16x30 sailing canoe

Introduction: John Summers, Curator of The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York (at the time of this writing), has been reviving the 16 foot by 30 inch decked sailing canoe by making, even designing, and sailing the historic craft. After I finished writing the 100 year History of the Cruising Class of sailing canoe, he suggested I write the History of the 16x30 Class. I said I might act as editor and collect writings about the decked sailing canoes but I didn’t know enough about them to do the whole thing. However, I could start by writing about the end of the 16x30. So here goes!

I am the last person alive who was present and had a part in the Challenge Cup Regatta in 1933 in which Uffa Fox and Roger De Quincy defeated Leo Friede and Walter Busch of the United States for the International Challenge Cup.

Although I was ten years old at the time, I had had considerable experience with sailing canoes. Living in a house with a 16x30 decked sailing canoe, my first sailing was on a 16x30 with my father, and most of my summer weekends were spent at the Island Canoe Club on City Island from which the decked sailors ran their races. I had made my first paddle, a year later I won my first canoe race paddling at Sugar Island, and two years later I was racing in the Cruising Class sailing canoe. More important though, my father was the measurer and I had been helping him measure sails and canoes. I was the only person he trusted to hold the end of the measuring tape properly without trying to make the dimension longer or shorter. I was immersed in the world of canoe sailing!

First I will write what I remember about the experience. Then I will write the history of the event, some background leading up to the Regatta and some of the consequences.

I can remember the Bayside Yacht Club and the big yacht we went on, which was the committee boat. I can also remember measuring the sails and the canoes. I think I remember Friede and Fox but I have seen so many pictures of them, I probably remember the pictures. I also knew Dudley Murphy — "Old Murph" — from Sugar Island, and my Uncle Jule Marshall who were on the Regatta Committee with my father.

The British canoes were wider and flatter than the American 16 foot long by 30 inch wide "Mermaid"-style of canoe. They were so called because they more or less copied Leo Friede’s canoe, "Mermaid". We measured all the canoes and sails. There was no problem with the hulls themselves as they met the requirements of the rules. The sails were within the area limits. However, there was a question concerning the masts or spars.

The rules at that time required that not over two thirds of the allowed sail area be carried by one "mast". Because of this, most of the American canoes were ketch rigged. The British however had put the sails on one mast which was upright and would be called the mainmast, and the other sail on a spar leaning back from the bow until it almost touched the standing mast. This spar was in the position of, and acted as, a jib stay and thus the foresail acted as a jib and the rig represented a sloop rig. This arrangement, therefore, was inconsistent with the spirit of the rule and possibly the letter of the rule!

I was, even at that time, aware of the problem and the important decision that the committee had to make. Should they disqualify the British canoes and keep them from racing, or should they allow the new rigs, permit them to race and give them an obviously great advantage over our sailors? The short-term consequences would be that the British could not race, or would be racing in borrowed canoes much to their disadvantage, or that, on the other hand, their canoes were within the rules and they could race their canoes, which gave them a great advantage.

I can remember the discussions and the tremendous strain the committee members were under and the conversations between my father and uncle. They were very fond of Leo Friede who was a fine sailor and who had come out of retirement to defend the Trophy as he had in 1913 and 1914 against the Canadians. They would be dooming their friends! And, they were also aware that in the long term, permitting this type of rig would lead to sloop rigs for the Class. These discussions went on for a day or two until the final decision had to be made. I was not present to witness the meeting in which the final decision was made to allow the British to use their canoes and rigs, but I remember my father’s coming home and telling us the decision!

We were on the Committee boat for the series and I can remember that the U.S. sailors put on an exhibition of great sailing. I knew also, at the time, that Uffa Fox was a sailor of great renown in England. I did not remember the exact results except that the U.S. sailors won on Friday in the light wind and everyone was excited and hopeful but they could not keep up with the larger, sloop rigged, British canoes in the brisk southwest winds of Saturday and Sunday and the British were the final winners!

Many times over the years I have thought how courageous, unselfish, and foreword looking their decision was. The international canoe sailing community should be very grateful to them!

Uffa Fox and Roger DeQincy went on to Sugar Island where, against Rolf Armstrong in a ketch rigged canoe, they won the Sailing Trophy and other races. They were extremely good sailors but their larger, sloop rigged, canoes certainly gave them an advantage.

That was my personal experience with the International Challenge of 1933. As most of you know, I have remained in touch with the International Canoe. I own one and have sailed them, but only in a few races. I continued to help my father measure canoes and now I am the National Measurer, and I served on the International Canoe Federation Sailing Committee. I design, build and race open sailing canoes, with many championships during the 75 years that I have participated, and still do.

I am writing a separate part of this article on the events that actually took place with some background and some of the consequences.

March 23, 2008


The story of the 16x30 decked sailing canoe is a long one. It developed from earlier models and theories about sailing canoes, then ended in popularity in 1933. But it was maintained as a class with its own measurements for awhile and is now being resurrected for its merits as an exciting sailing craft. This is not a detailed history of the class but at least some background and some momentous occasions in the course of its story. If anyone can supply more information to me, I would love to incorporate it and we might develop a real history!

To begin the story the reader must travel back in time to the 1870’s. Those were the days when Custer was still fighting Indians and much of the country was still not mapped. People traveled around on horseback or in wagons or in boats. Farms, towns, and cities grew up around the waterways and much more shipping and traveling was done over water. A greater percentage of the people were familiar with boats and with sailing. Also, the people of the East Coast used the language more the way it was used in England.

John Macgregor designed a craft modeled on the "Esquimau" boats he had seen on his travels in North America in 1859. He called these boats "canoes" and named his Rob Roy after a member of the family. Actually, he designed four of them and used them for travels, starting in 1865, around Europe and the Middle East. His books did much to make the canoe popular. At about the same time another Englishman, Warrington Baden- Powell, designed and built another canoe which he called the "Nautilis", which also went through several models. Under Macgregor’s leadership they formed the Royal Canoe Club in1866.

In North America, another journalist, William L. Alden, had a canoe made by James W. Everson which followed the lines of the Nautilus No. 4, and was named the "Violetta". He influenced some of his fellow sportsmen to take up canoeing and founded the New York Canoe Club in1871.

These canoes, which we would call kayaks today, were cruising boats intended for making trips lasting several days. They were made by European building techniques, cutting pieces of wood and fastening them together with nails and screws and bolts. They did not originate from the birch bark canoe and had nothing to do with it. They had cockpits in which they slept and, from the very beginning, centerboards and rudders.

In a similar manner to other yachtsmen, they started racing with the first official canoe sailing race on Flushing Bay, October 21,1871. The race was won by Montgomery Schuyler in the "Gretchen", built in England. The New York Canoe Club had sixteen members that year.

J. Henry Rushton began building canoes in 1876 and his first sailing canoe, Alden’s Vesper, was soon added to his catalogue. William P. Stephens was building canoes in New Jersey before 1880.

The American Canoe Association was formed in 1880 at Lake George. They held annual Encampments at various places and started a series of competitions. The first was the ACA record in1884, which was a combined paddling and sailing trophy. The Sailing trophy was added in 1886.

In 1886, at the Annual Encampment at Grindstone Island in the Saint Lawrence River, an important Regatta took place where the competition was primarily amongst various styles of canoes. The British canoes, sailed by Baden-Powell and Stewart, were of the Nautilus type, larger and heavily ballasted. The American canoes, Gibson’s Vesper, built by Rushton, and Barney’s Pecowsic, built by Fletcher Joyner, were much lighter and without ballast. Paul Butler even had a canoe with a sliding seat he had just invented.

The Americans very soundly defeated the British with the Vesper’s winning the first race and the Pecowsic’s winning the consolation race. Gibson and his Vesper also won the ACA Sailing trophy. This Regatta established the racing superiority of the light, specialized, racing sailing canoe and especially the smooth-skinned and technically rigged Pecowsic. From that point on the builders designed canoes and the rules were changed to develop the sailing canoe as a highly specialized racing machine!

By 1903, when the ACA had purchased Sugar Island and started its National Encampment there, the rules stated that the sailing canoe be no longer than 16 feet nor wider than 30 inches but for each decrease of length of 1 inch there could be an increase of width of 1/8 inch. They could carry 112 square feet of sail area.

There was also a "Cruising Class," where the boats had to have a cockpit in which the sailor could sleep, and a Special Class which could be 17 feet long and 42 inches wide, and also required a cockpit for sleeping, and no seat could extend outboard of the gunwale.

4 All these canoes were eligible for all races except where the deed of gift specified 16x30 canoes. The canoes pictured at Sugar in 1903 were Gunter rigged but looked very much like later 16x30 canoes with sliding seats. But were these truly the beginning of the16x30 class?

In 1906 the permissible width was 32 inches and there is a picture of Dudley Murphy sailing "Banshee" with a gaff rig in two masts? By 1907 the width had been increased to 36 inches and there is a picture of Murphy’s sailing a canoe with a sloop rig, which I believe Banshee always had. In 1916 the rules were still 16 feet by 36 inches and there was also the "Special Class. Added was a new sail area of 90 square feet with no more than 60 square feet in any one sail.

Some time between 1916 and 1932 the rule was changed to read 16 feet by 30 inches with the basic sail area of 90 square feet and allowances of increased or decreased area depending on length and width of the canoe. There was also a stipulation that no more than two-thirds of the allowed sail area be carried on any one mast. Canoes were made and raced to the 16x30 dimension. Friede raced the "Mermaid III" in 1924 and the "Mermaid II" in 1925. One of these was apparently the Canoe he sailed in 1933.

After the British won the New York Challenge Cup in 1933 and also defeated Rolf Armstrong at Sugar Island with the wider, more planing type hull and the spar arrangement which was actually a sloop rig, the officials of the two countries got together and agreed on a new set of rules by the end of 1934. These rules were approved by the ACA at a Meeting on October 13, 1934. This was the beginning of the International Sailing Canoe class.

With the new rules, which permitted a wider, flatter planing type of hull and the enlarged sail area, the 16x30 canoe design became less competitive and fewer were raced. Unfortunately, not many were preserved!

The position of National Measurer was created and my father, Tom Zuk was elected the first National Measurer. The canoes, made to the new rules, were measured and I have these measurements in the original notebook. I can remember going to Rolf Armstrong’s house and measuring his boats and sails. Rolf was an artist, like Petty who followed him, famous for his beautiful calendar girls. He gave us a signed picture which I have here somewhere. I also have attached to this article a couple of these measurements from 1935.

From these new designs evolved Louis Whitman’s "Manana" and "Phoenix", and eventually led to the establishment of the "One Design" rules for the International Sailing Canoe.

16x30 Class Scrapbook

New York Canoe Club
International Challenge Cup

International Challenge Cup race announcement

International Cup Rules

Record of races

Formal race announcement

Deckboats waiting for a wind at bayside

Winner in race on Little Neck Bay

An incident in the life of a decked-canoe sailor

Wahl home first in canoe sailing

English will send 2 canoes to race here

U.S. decked-canoe team defends

Columbus wouldn't stand a chance

A fresh slant on how easy it is to drown

Complicating the canoe

Americans score in canoe sailing

English lift decked-canoe trophy held here

De Quincey 2d, Busch trailing, with Friede out

British triumph in canoe sailing

Canoe sailing a sport for acrobats

British challenged for canoe trophy in 1934 race abroad

Close-ups: Leo Friede

Armstrong retains Elliott
Waldinger lifts Lady Bug Trophy

1934 results

1934 results

1934 results

Tom Zuk - Sugar Island - 1925

Centaur #4

Nymph III #19

Leo Polt #37

Twilight #31


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